In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Citizenship

  • Introduction
  • Anthropology of Citizenship General Works
  • Citizenship as Subject-Formation “from Above”: Welfare, Health, and Education
  • Claims-Making “from Below”: Activism and the Law
  • Citizenship as Subject-Formation: Intimacies, Sexualities, and Moralities
  • Citizenship beyond the Nation: Urban Citizenship
  • Citizenship beyond the Nation: Transnational, Diasporic, and Stateless Citizenships
  • The Citizen and the Noncitizen

Anthropology Citizenship
Sian Lazar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0222


At its most fundamental, citizenship means political belonging, and to study citizenship is to study how we live with others in a political community. Anthropological work on the theme of citizenship tends to break open the classic version of citizenship as a universal legal status belonging to citizens of a given nation-state. Instead, it recognizes the differentiated nature of political membership, and the ways that citizenship acts as an ordering and disciplining device as well as a mechanism for making claims upon different kinds of political communities. These may include the state but they are not limited to it. In dialogue with political theorists, anthropologists of citizenship have argued that the constitution of any given community requires a considerable amount of work, and that meaningful membership is more than the possession of rights and responsibilities. Citizenship may be formal or substantive, full or partial, and it is always under construction, as citizens and noncitizens claim inclusion and effective participation in political life. That may be articulated through languages of rights but may also be conducted—and contested—through other kinds of everyday or insurgent political practices. One of the main focuses of ethnographic study of the practices of citizenship has therefore been on how people relate to the state, bringing out the relationship between people and state bureaucracies and between people and law. Another aspect is the scale at which relevant political communities operate, as anthropologists have added to the discussion of national citizenship with studies of cosmopolitan, transnational, or global citizenships and of local, city-based formations. Citizenship is a complex bundle of practices of encounter between the state and citizens at different scales or levels. Because citizenship practices are also the means by which societies organize inclusion and exclusion, the figure of the noncitizen is crucial to the construction of citizenship. Noncitizens might be conceptualized as strangers, migrants, or refugees, and these individuals always raise questions about the definitions of political communities and their borders. Central to all these processes of inclusion, exclusion, encounter, and claims-making is the way that people (citizens and noncitizens) build their own political agency and subjecthood under what constraints and in what realms of life, including the most intimate.

Anthropology of Citizenship General Works

Citizenship is a combination of practice and status. Two traditions can be identified within the political theory of citizenship—liberal and civic republican—that continue to be crucial today. Civic republican traditions draw on Aristotelian and other discussions of Greek democracy and Rousseauian notions of the general will, and they can be traced through some of the colonial traditions of Latin America, as well as Arendtian ideas about belonging. Liberal traditions exist in tension with these, and can be seen especially in a trajectory that goes back to Locke via the French and American declarations of the rights of man—and associated declarations of the rights of women. Other independence declarations and constitutions, such as the Second Constitution of Haiti, mix the two sets of values, as described in Lazar 2013. The liberal tradition of citizenship theorization has been most effectively stated in Marshall 1983, which works both as a summary of that tradition and, for many thinkers, as a conceptual outline for how to understand citizenship. Anthropologists, in works such as Rosaldo 1994 and Ong 1996, first worked explicitly with concepts of citizenship through ideas of culture and cultural citizenship, which led to the fleshing out of the idea that citizenship is a practice and a process of political belonging and participation in political life, not just a status of the possession of particular rights, as outlined in Holston 1999. That approach in exploring citizenship in various ways is found in recent journal special issues on citizenship: Lazar and Nuijten 2013 examines citizenship as political agency and self-making, while de Koning, et al. 2015 explores it as membership of political communities beyond the nation-state. Stolcke 1995 and Clarke, et al. 2013 show how culture remains a field of concern for the anthropology of citizenship.

  • Clarke, Kamari M., N. Fadeke Castor, Amanda D. Concha-Holmes, and Bayo Holsey. 2013. Special section: Cultural citizenship in the black Atlantic world. Cultural Anthropology 28.3: 464–518.

    DOI: 10.1111/cuan.12014

    This is a set of articles that discusses cultural citizenship in the black Atlantic world, emphasizing an interpretation of citizenship as lying beyond the nation-state and political spheres. The three articles cover religion and tourism, Cuba, Trinidad, and Ghana. Altogether they explore the heterogeneity of blackness and the ways that membership in political communities are defined and claimed. The introduction gives a useful overview of the concept of cultural citizenship.

  • de Koning, Anouk, Rivke Jaffe, and Martijn Koster, eds. 2015. Special issue: Citizenship agendas in and beyond the nation-state. Citizenship Studies 19.5.

    Discusses citizenship agendas, defined as normative framings of citizenship, for example the “good citizen.” Suggests that these operate both within and beyond the nation in articulation with nonstate and state actors. The introduction provides a thorough study of recent scholarship on citizenship, and articles cover elections in Jamaica, youth policies and social housing in the Netherlands, civic disputes over Muslim sound in the United States, intergenerational conflict and vigilantism in Guatemala, and urban space in Beirut.

  • Holston, James. 1999. Spaces of insurgent citizenship. In Cities and citizenship. Edited by James Holston, 155–173. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    Early discussion from one of the leading anthropologists of citizenship, emphasizing the agency of people claiming citizenship in multiple, “insurgent,” ways. Proposes a distinction between formal and substantive citizenship, where formal citizenship is the set of formal rights that citizens have as citizens, while substantive citizenship is the extent to which they actually enjoy those rights.

  • Lazar, Sian. 2013. Introduction. In The anthropology of citizenship: A reader. Edited by Sian Lazar, 25–26. Malden, MA: Blackwell-Wiley.

    An essay on the development of ideas about citizenship in anthropology. It begins with a political genealogy of the anthropology of citizenship by outlining the two traditions out of which it emerged, within political anthropology and political philosophy of citizenship. The essay then introduces the extracts collected in the reader and assesses the dominant themes within the anthropology of citizenship.

  • Lazar, Sian, and Monique Nuijten, eds. 2013. Special issue: Citizenship, the self, and political agency. Critique of Anthropology 33.1.

    This collection of articles explores the processes and practices that make someone into a full member of a given political community and, thus, how citizenship is experienced in particular contexts. If citizenship turns on the ability of citizens to affect politics, doing so relies upon both the structural conditions for the realization of full citizenship and the self-creation of citizens as full, good, or active citizens. Articles discuss these processes of political agency and citizen-making in Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia, Mexico, India, and Argentina.

  • Leydet, Dominique. Citizenship. 2017. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

    Online summary of political philosophy of citizenship.

  • Marshall, T. H. 1983. Citizenship and social class. In States and societies. Edited by David Held, 248–260. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Originally published in 1950. A foundational essay that provides a classic kiberal position on citizenship, arguing that in the UK citizenship developed with the progressive realisation of civic, political, and, with the advent of the welfare state, social rights. Views citizenship as a property of the person, a kind of basket of rights and responsibilities that goes along with the status of membership in the national community.

  • Ong, Aihwa. 1996. Cultural citizenship as subject-making: Immigrants negotiate racial and cultural boundaries in the United States [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology 37.5: 737–762.

    DOI: 10.1086/204560

    Builds on Rosaldo’s notion of cultural citizenship to explore in more detail processes by which rights are culturally ascribed and to move beyond the idea that citizenship can unproblematically be claimed. The article describes how two sets of immigrants to the San Francisco Bay area become citizens, through processes that are not entirely of their own making, and especially in relation to their interaction with state agents. This notion is developed further in Ong 1999 (cited under Citizenship beyond the Nation: Transnational, Diasporic, and Stateless Citizenships).

  • Rosaldo, Renato. 1994. Cultural citizenship in San Jose, California. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 17.2: 57–64.

    DOI: 10.1525/pol.1994.17.2.57

    An early discussion of cultural citizenship. Emphasizes citizenship as participation in democratic processes, and shows how racial difference undermines the idea that citizenship is a universal and equal quality possessed by all those with the same formal status. Explores ethnographically the difference between first- and second-class citizenship, or full and partial citizenship, among Latinxs in the United States, and stresses that citizenship is about how people claim rights.

  • Stolcke, Verena. 1995. Talking culture: New boundaries, New rhetorics of exclusion in Europe. Current Anthropology 36.1: 1–24.

    DOI: 10.1086/204339

    Discusses the ways that the political right in Europe has developed a political rhetoric of exclusion of immigrants from outside of Europe on the basis of cultural difference. Although seemingly just a new way of articulating racism, Stolcke argues that, at its heart, it constitutes a proposal that humans tend to reject strangers, because different cultures cannot communicate across the boundaries between them. Although based on a lecture from 1993, this article is remarkably apt for the present conjuncture.

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